Deceased Prospect Avenue fire hero to receive street naming

Private Emmanuel Mensah’s father, Kwabena (l), and Fr. Jonathan Morris flank a photo of Private Emmanuel Mensah, outside Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church during the press conference.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

A hero who perished in the Prospect Avenue fire will soon be memorialized with a street naming.

Private first class Emmanuel Mensah is credited with repeatedly entering the burning building to help trapped tenants escape the life-threatening flames and smoke.

He was born in Ghana and came to the United States just five years ago.

“When he was a little boy, his dream was to come to America after his mother passed away,” said his father, Kwabena Mensah, at a press update about relief efforts on Monday, January 22.

Emmanuel joined the Army against his father’s desire for him to stay in school.

“I visited my mom, who is now deceased, in Atlanta when he called me and said ‘Dad I’m stationed in Virginia.’ I had no words, so I wished him good luck.”

Emmanuel had returned to the Bronx for the first time since he left for boot camp in Virginia when he contacted his father.

“He wasn’t living with me, he was in the building next door. He called me and said I had to come see him in his apartment. On my way there, people were shouting ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!,’” recalled Mensah of that night.

Emmanuel’s first reaction was to save the residents of the building on that fateful winter night.

“I rushed to the place and I saw him by the window. He was rescuing his roommate and his roommate’s kids.”

Kwabena Mensah helped bring the kids to the safety of his own apartment.

“I ask my friend ‘where’s Emmanuel’ and he said he went back in,” said Mensah. “After, I was told he was rescuing people, going back and forth.”

“I wish I could have seen him to stop him but I had no chance. I realized I wouldn’t have my son again,” the distraught dad said.

The fire, which started on the first floor by a 3-year-old playing with the burners on a stove, spread up the staircase to the rest of the building and claimed 13 lives, including Emmanuel’s on Thursday, December 28.

There were others who tried to help fellow neighbors escape the blaze, but were stopped by the flames.

“Kwabena came to us for help with funeral services for his son,” said Father Jonathan Morris of Our Lady of Mount Carmel church.

“A few people came to the church last night and said ‘there were three [individuals] trying to save people and two of [them] realized it was going to be too tough. Emmanuel told us it doesn’t matter if it’s too tough, there’s still people who need my help,” the pastor recounted.

According to city officials, Mensah died from smoke inhalation and was found inside the building.

“[Emmanuel] was somebody who knew there was danger and went beyond the call of duty. Your son is a hero,” said Fr. Morris to Kwabena Mensah.

“That’s what he was. He was determined. That’s why he joined the Army, to do what is right,” Mensah responded.

Since the fire, members of the community, including Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Catholic Charities and the office of Councilman Ritchie Torres have raised about $300,000 for the victims.

Torres promised to introduce legislation in the City Council to rename East 187th street and Prospect Avenue for Private Emmanuel Mensah.

“The purpose of recording history is to never forget and we will record the name of your son so that his heroism in our darkest moment not be forgotten and is memorialized forever in the identity and history of our neighborhood,” the councilman told Emmanuel’s dad.

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at svalenzuela@cnglocal.com.

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